Substandard and Dangerous Housing

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    Ousted: The City of San Antonio’s Displacement of Residents through Code Enforcement Actions
    (2021-11) Way, Heather K.; Judd, Abbey; Willis, Ottilia
    In this report, we examine the City of San Antonio’s displacement of residents from their homes for code violations, with a focus on single-family residences. From 2015-2020, the City issued close to 1,000 orders to vacate and orders to demolish single-family homes, including at least 607 orders for occupied homes. Residents who are displaced from their homes by these blunt code enforcement tools are among the city’s most vulnerable residents. With the loss of their homes and lack of access to relocation assistance, these residents face a perilous future, including a high risk of homelessness.In our research, we sought to better understand the City’s process for issuing these orders to vacate and demolish and how this process compares to other large cities in Texas. We also analyzed the locations of these orders and whether certain communities have been disproportionately impacted. And finally, we examined the types of city resources available to help residents receiving these orders.
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    Out of Order: Houston's Dangerous Apartment Epidemic
    (2018-02) Way, Heather K.; Fraser, Carol E.
    Houston is a city of renters, with more than 420,000 rental housing units and the third highest number of occupied apartments in the country. Many of these apartments, however, are unsafe and deteriorating. Following decades of weak building standards and feeble code enforcement, Houston is now in the midst of a dangerous apartment epidemic. The city’s dangerous apartment epidemic is fueled by hundreds of substandard apartment complexes as well as large volumes of apartments with habitually high levels of violent crime. For example, at one apartment complex in Southeast Houston, 284 major crimes were recently reported in a single year—an average of one major crime every 1.3 days. As with several other areas of the City, this part of Houston is riddled with a heavy concentration of high crime apartment complexes, harming not only the tenants of those properties but the surrounding neighbors. Houston’s low-income African-American, Hispanic, and immigrant residents bear the brunt of these dangerous apartment conditions. Dangerous apartments disproportionately impact these residents’ physical and mental health and, when unaddressed, have led to catastrophic outcomes for Houston’s most vulnerable tenants, including the deaths of children and adults.When Hurricane Harvey struck in August 2017, the flooding increased both the scale and severity of dangerous apartment conditions in Houston—and, in particular, amplified the city’s severe deficit of safe and affordable rental housing options for poor tenants. Prior to Harvey, Houston was already the third worst city in the country when it came to the availability of affordable housing for extremely low-income households. Now, after Harvey, these tenants are even more likely to be trapped in unsafe housing, with no access to safer housing alternatives.For decades, city leaders have been aware of Houston’s dangerous apartment epidemic, and around ten years ago, the City deployed a number of new programs and policies to address apartment safety conditions. Despite these efforts, the City’s record of addressing tenant safety is grim. In our evaluation of the City’s current apartment safety programs, we found the resources invested in apartment safety to be severely inadequate. On top of that, we found the implementation of the programs to be flawed, fractured, and improperly managed. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to improve Houston’s programs for addressing dangerous apartments. With the right leadership and commitment, Houston can do much to avert future tragedies and improve housing conditions for thousands of the city’s renters.
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    Addressing Problem Properties: Legal and Policy Tools for Safer Rundberg and Safer Austin
    (2013-08) Way, Heather K.
    This Report provides information and recommendations on legal and policy tools that could be utilized to improve public safety and the quality of life in the Rundberg area of Austin by addressing problem properties. We prepared this report specifically to help inform community and city efforts in the Restore Rundberg Initiative. The Initiative, which is funded in part by a $1 million Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, is being administered by the Austin Police Department in order to “improve the quality of life, health, safety, education, and well being of everyone living and working in the Rundberg Neighborhood.” While we focus on the Rundberg area, our policy recommendations are applicable citywide and to any Austin neighborhood confronted with problem properties.
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    Texas Problem Properties Toolkit: A Resource to Help Texas Communities Address Problems Created by Vacant and Abandoned Properties
    (2010) Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic
    For the past two years, the Community Development Clinic at the University ofTexas School of Law has been researching best practices in Texas and around theUnited States for addressing problem properties. Our research has culminated in this toolkit, which summarizes the most effective strategies that Texas cities, neighborhood organizations, and other stakeholders can adopt to eliminate the harms created by vacant and abandoned properties. By targeting these properties, local leaders can create safer and stronger neighborhoods, build more vibrant and economically sustainable communities, and provide new opportunities for success.
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    Building Hope: Tools for Transforming Abandoned and Blighted Properties into Community Assets
    (2007-12) Way, Heather K.
    This report was prepared at the request of Builders of Hope, a Texas nonprofit corporation and community-based organization in West Dallas, to examine some of the different legal and policy tools that can be used to improve the abandoned and blighted properties that plague the community. Builders of Hope is working with other community organizations to transform a section of West Dallas into a safe, healthy, and viable neighborhood, with the belief that all residents have the right to live in neighborhoods free from crime and urban blight.